Leadership development opportunities are
available and valuable to professional engineers.
BY MATTHEW MCLAUGHLIN
Even for those to whom leadership comes naturally, taking charge for the first time can be challenging, as Joseph Plunk, P.E., found out after
receiving a promotion from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet in 2008.
Previously a highway design engineer, he was given a branch manager
position that year. “In that previous position I was in a cubicle, at a desk,
working on highway plans,” Plunk says. “Even though I coordinated with a lot
of people, I had my superiors and other project managers who led the group
or led the project. So, when I was promoted to the [branch manager] position,
I had a lot to learn.”
Adding to the challenge Plunk faced with the new position was its location
at an entirely different KTC district office, where his team was made up of
people he did not know and had no experience working with. “I felt like I really
needed to enhance my ability to lead the group,” he says. “I have 27 people
in my branch that I manage.”
Plunk’s experience is not unique, especially among professional engineers
who frequently find themselves in leadership roles at some point in their
careers. Unfortunately, many PEs also discover they lack the valuable educa-
tion, training, and skills that would help them in such roles.
“Our engineering schools in this country do a great job on honing technical
competence, but how you translate that competence to the engineering team
and create a product or create a process is a whole different ballgame,” says
Tim Schaffer, executive director of the Ohio Society of Professional Engineers.